A day spent in the far north of Vietnam at a wonderfully colourful market and very remote villages where few people travel - so lucky to experience this little-seen rural side of Vietnam.
Blessed again with fabulous weather we set out early to drive from Sapa to the far north of Vietnam, close to the Chinese border, to visit little-known Lung Khau Nhin and its market. The landscapes were fabulous in the morning sun, especially the rich green terraces near Sapa and later the mountains.
Through Lao Cai the roads were fine but thereafter they got steadily worse and were appalling in places, barely worthy of the name!
Still, we made it in one piece thanks to our excellent driver, and the market was definitely worth it. Though small its stalls were manned by many of the hill tribe people in their colourful dress, and many more had come to shop including Flower Hmong, Black Dzao and Nung.
We took lots of photographs, trying hard not to offend anyone.
The women's clothing was wonderfully colourful. The various different hill tribes seem to have a basic style of their own that can have numerous different colourways and variations.
Leaving the market we drove through beautiful mountain scenery, stopping for photographs. We were on our way to the nearest "large" town - Muong Khuong.
Lunch was in a simple restaurant but, as ever, the food was good: barbecue pork, beef with onions, omelette, rather watery greens and pickled veg, rice and sauces - the barbecue pork and omelette were particularly good.
At a long table a group of local teachers were having a very good time. It was National Teachers Day when the children give gifts and flowers. One jovial young man came over with his cup of rice wine to chink with our bottles of beer and shake hands. Later he stopped me and asked "Ingliss?" - his English was restricted to footballing terms like Premier League and we had no Vietnamese of course, but mentioning Liverpool delighted him hugely.
Afterwards we walked around the town a little and through the market. It was very quiet - perhaps most people were at lunch! The buildings were all quite low and well-shaded and the streets were strung with the usual festoons of cables.
We drove on to a Nung village in a tea plantation area - here it is all green tea. The landscape was vibrantly green right from the village fields up into the soaring mountains.
The villagers here were very friendly and there were no other travellers around. It was wonderful to stroll through the quiet village and countryside, very peaceful.
The area looked incredibly fertile with all kinds of fruits growing wild, the villagers also were cultivating in plots close to their homes. One of the villagers we (rather our guide) talked to insisted on giving us black chillies that I'd been asking about.
We noticed unusual building techniques including a style which resembled basket-weaving used in both fences and house walls.
We came upon a couple roasting tea in a wooden shed. The leaves were first put into some kind of rotating container heated by a furnace and then into a grinder. They had a couple of fans going but it was still extremely hot and dusty in the shed - very sensibly they were wearing face masks.
After another short drive we were dropped off by our driver and walked up through the tea terraces to a Muong village, It was hot and the road was steep but it flattened out at the village.
I really enjoyed this day, visiting villages well off the beaten track. Though it took a good deal of effort to get to them it was well worth it, and we couldn't have done it without excellent local guides. We had a fairly detailed idea of what we wanted to do in Vietnam and visiting villages and hill tribes, seeing how the ordinary people live, was high on the list.
Late afternoon we returned to Lao Cai where we were to take the night train back to Hanoi. We were tired but had a look around the town. The border crossing to China seems quite open - Vietnamese can go over for the day but they need a visa for any longer. They are allowed to bring things back to sell and we saw many people with laden bicycles.
We passed by Den Mau temple - I don't think we saw any other temple in the region, probably because the local people have their own particular old religions such as animism.
Through the market before settling in a restaurant to eat and rest before the journey.
It had been a wonderful day in the mountain villages and we left with many fond memories of the people and fabulous landscapes.